Combating the threat from agricultural chemicals

New compliance regulations seek to minimize threat from chemicals used in U.S. agriculture

Chemicals play an important role in the agricultural world. Some chemicals, like propane, are used for fuel while others protect crops from pests.

Without the aid of chemical fertilizers, industrial farmers and feed mills would never be able to produce crops in the quantities they do today. But chemicals have an ugly side, as well.

Anyone who's taken Chemistry 101 knows that chemicals can be harmful when used improperly. Life-threatening consequences can occur if stored incorrectly, at the wrong temperature or mixed with other chemicals.

The most recent fear we face with chemicals is their ability to aid terrorists in chemical warfare.

To combat the threat chemicals pose when in the wrong hands, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has updated its chemical security program, called the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS), so high-risk facilities can be monitored more closely.

Input from the agricultural community was taken into consideration when formulating the new standards. Dennis Deziel, acting deputy director, DHS Chemical Security Compliance Division (CSCD), presented "DHS' Chemical Security Rule -- Impacts on Country Elevators and Feed Mills" at the 2007 Country Elevator show in Chicago this past December.

"The agricultural community has provided invaluable insight to the Department of Homeland Security in the development of the regulations, and DHS continues to maintain a substantive and valuable dialogue with the agricultural community," says Deziel.

He lays out the reasons for the new regulations, how to find out if your facility is high-risk and how this will affect day-to-day operations of feed mills, grain elevators and other agricultural facilities.

The Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) is a broad term covering the governmental regulations regarding the chemical security program.

After the DHS Appropriation Act of 2007 was passed, the department was given six months to plan and implement the new law. During those six months, the DHS comprised and published a preliminary Chemicals of Interest List and released it to the public for comment. Based on industry feedback, including comments from the agricultural sector, the Chemicals of Interest List was slightly modified.

On Nov. 20, 2007, the DHS published the CFATS Interim Final Rule, which included the revised Chemicals of Interest List (known as Appendix A containing more than 300 chemicals. Each has a Screening Threshold Quantity (STQ), or maximum amount allowed of a particular chemical. This is used to decide if a facility needs to fill out a Top-Screen form, and what the form reports determines if a facility is high-risk or not. Facilities whose Top-Screen qualifies them as high-risk are subject to regular inspections by the DHS.

"Since the publication of the final Appendix A, additional questions have been raised regarding the applicability of the Top-Screen requirement to agricultural facilities and operations," Deziel explains. "The DHS is gathering more information concerning these issues to determine whether any modification of the Top-Screen requirement might be warranted, if any."

Originally the DHS stated all facilities that possess a chemical of interest in any amount needed to fill out a Top-Screen.

"In the final appendix, the Department has established baseline standard threshold quantities for the chemicals of interest for each security issue. Where necessary, the Department has identified a few exceptions," Deziel notes.

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